Tiger Woods is often at the epicenter of conversations about professional golf, but his 2013-14 season may be over after he re-aggravated a nagging back injury Sunday.
That puts Woods' status for the PGA Championship very much in doubt, which is particularly tough to take since he captured the Wanamaker Trophy in 2000. It marked the last time the PGA was played at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, the site of this year's major finale.
He may be a 15-1 favorite as of Sunday on Vegas Insider, but Woods' odds are sure to stretch immensely between now and his tee time. That's if he's even able to play.
Woods' precarious future will continue to be discussed for weeks to come. With this upcoming major, the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Ryder Cup to come, though, the predominant focus will shift to those teeing it up at Valhalla.
Chief among the favorites for the PGA Championship is Rory McIlroy. The game's brightest young star seized the third leg of the career Grand Slam at the British Open and then backed it up with a comeback victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
McIlroy is booming drives so long and straight that it's hard to discount him in his pursuit of major No. 4, barring horrendous form with his short game. Sergio Garcia was tied for second at The Open Championship and held the 54-hole lead in Akron before losing it.
ESPN.com's Bob Harig commented on the exciting showdown:
Heck of a battle between Rory/Sergio at Firestone. Sergio needs it more, but what a story if Rory goes back-to-back with the Open— Bob Harig (@BobHarig) August 3, 2014
The former prodigy in Garcia is chasing his maiden major, so a third consecutive duel between him and McIlroy would be a fascinating development for the sport in general.
Here is a closer look at some of the marquee favorites, the notable tee times and the complete PGA Championship field information ahead of Thursday's start.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise indicated.
When: Thursday, August 7 through Sunday, August 10
Where: Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky
Length: 7,458 yards
Tee Times: Complete groups for the first two rounds are available at PGA.com.
FedEx Cup Points: 600
Purse: $10 million
|8:05 a.m.||Rickie Fowler, Victor Dubuisson and Ernie Els|
|8:15 a.m.||Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood|
|8:35 a.m.||Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods|
|9:05 a.m.||Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose|
|1:25 p.m.||Sergio Garcia, Steve Stricker and Tom Watson|
|1:35 p.m.||Kenny Perry, Ryan Moore and Henrik Stenson|
|1:45 p.m.||Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer|
|1:55 p.m.||Y.E. Yang, Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner|
Analyzing Marquee Favorites
Rory McIlroy (17-2)
The three majors McIlroy has won have been in dominant fashion. Judging from his past, many may assert McIlroy won't be anywhere near contention unless he's firing on all cylinders.
However, the 2013-14 season has offered signs that McIlroy is taking the next step in his evolution—even before his Claret Jug coronation. McIlroy was often undone by one bad stretch of holes, which frequently came in the second round of tournaments.
Even when McIlroy wasn't winning and was sometimes grinding to make the weekend cut on the number, he was still sneaking into the top 10. That happened at both the Masters and The Players Championship. It was just a matter of finding a spark.
That came at the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship, where McIlroy rallied from seven strokes behind in the final round to win.
Since losing the first-round lead at the Scottish Open, McIlroy has posted second rounds of 66 and 64 in his last two starts—both wins. The source of his power has been his prowess off the tee, which Yahoo Sports' Shane Bacon observed during McIlroy's Sunday win at Firestone:
So the way Rory McIlroy is driving the golf ball, every 450-yard par-4 is a driver and a sand wedge. Sounds fun!— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) August 3, 2014
And it's also evident McIlroy is in the right frame of mind, per GolfChannel.com's Jason Sobel:
Rory McIlroy: "My goal from now until the end of the year isn't No. 1 or anything. It's to win as many tournaments as I can."— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 3, 2014
McIlroy has led the PGA Tour in birdies-or-better conversion percentage, a testament to how stellar he's been from tee to green. Now, the mistakes are fewer and further between, which is bad news for the rest of the PGA Championship field.
That he was quick to put his Open Championship victory behind him and focus on the rest of the year shows McIlroy does indeed have plenty of competitive fire to be one of the all-time greats. Winning a third massive tournament in a row would certainly confirm his status as golf's next big thing, if there's even a lingering doubt now.
Adam Scott (15-1)
Before Sunday, the only man who stood between McIlroy and the No. 1 spot in the world rankings was Adam Scott. Credit is due to the Aussie for hanging tough, contending well in the past two majors and adding a playoff victory over reigning PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner at Colonial.
Adding to the suspense at Akron was the top-ranking storyline, as Scott needed to finish in the top five to prevent the victorious McIlroy from going to No. 1, per Sobel:
If Rory McIlroy wins, he becomes No. 1 in the world if Adam Scott is lower than solo fifth. He is currently in a four-way tie for fifth.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 3, 2014
Scott has come a long way in recent years after it looked like he might never return to the level that saw him win The Players Championship at age 23. Having said that, he's never quite displayed the putting chops to challenge a player like McIlroy at his best.
It's hard to believe Scott lost his top spot in the rankings after competing in five of the biggest events of the season, featuring one win and no finish worse than a tie for ninth at the U.S. Open. Kyle Porter of CBSSports.com commented:
Adam Scott's last 5 PGA Tour starts: Crowne Plaze: WIN Memorial: T4 US Open: T9 British Open: T5 Bridgestone: T8 Loses No. 1 rank. #Rory— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) August 3, 2014
That's why Scott shouldn't be down about losing out to McIlroy for the top spot, as it seemed like an inevitable development. The question is whether he can muster enough gusto to contend at Valhalla, and that all depends on his short game.
Rickie Fowler (28-1)
Although he faded a bit in Akron after another promising start, there is no doubt Fowler is moving in the right direction under the guidance of new swing coach Butch Harmon.
Fowler made a wealth of putts at The Open Championship, trying to battle through some wayward shots that surfaced again at Firestone. As long as Fowler can get his long game back on track, though, he ought to be in contention in Louisville.
A tough break led to a rocky third-round 73 at Firestone, which a dismayed Fowler addressed on Twitter:
The hairy dub monster jumped up and bit me...damn ball was underground in that bunker...time to get after it tomorrow✊— Rickie Fowler (@RickieFowlerPGA) August 2, 2014
The maturation in Fowler's game surfaced again Sunday, when he kept it together, carded a 67, and tied the likes of Scott, Graeme McDowell and Ryan Moore for eighth.
Fowler has just one PGA Tour victory to his name, so doubts will linger until he translates his improvement into regular trophies. Other than Jordan Spieth, there isn't a greater hope among American youngsters than Fowler, so a certain amount of pressure comes with that territory.
But if Fowler is letting it get to him, he's doing a remarkable job of hiding it. An outstanding on-course demeanor, immense talent and a knack for getting hot to make a bunch of birdies all suggest Fowler should be a serious force at Valhalla.
Henrik Stenson (28-1)
Much like Scott, Stenson boasts a combination of power and precision that is rarely seen. Now, a more chiseled McIlroy is beginning to take things to another level with the way he can heat up with the putter.
The flat iron has not been as kind to Stenson over the years. Multiple prolonged slumps have hardened the veteran Swede into the magnificent player he's turned out to be, highlighted by last year's FedEx Cup triumph.
After a hot summer that has featured plenty of strong results but no wins, it's about time Stenson pieces everything together in gearing up for his FedEx Cup defense. There might not be a more talented international player without a major victory this side of Garcia.
Stenson has never quite been as certain from 100 yards and in as he has been otherwise. A tie for fourth at the U.S. Open won't really satisfy Stenson, since Martin Kaymer ran away with that one. A tie for 39th at the British Open has to have Stenson eager to get back on the major stage and perform well.
All that really needs to happen for Stenson is to get on a roll when he rolls the rock. Stenson's long, straight driving and excellent iron play are great fits for the PGA Championship, and he fell just short last season in placing third.
Who will win the 2014 PGA Championship?
The threat of Woods is no longer anything near what it used to be. It's reflected in the depth of modern golf fields, McIlroy's ascendance and the numerous others who've stepped up in Woods' stead to have breakthrough success of their own—such as Scott, Fowler and Stenson.
With how well McIlroy, Garcia and Fowler are playing, those three alone should provide plenty of entertainment. But add Scott trying to keep McIlroy from pulling away for world No. 1, Stenson trying to break through and a number of other notable storylines, and this PGA Championship figures to be an epic major finale for 2013-14.